I have heard many people over the past decade wonder about a “Luther” for the LCMS. I don’t think it would go very well. Such a man with similar criticisms would not be received well by the LCMS at large – in fact, he would probably be received in a way similar to the way Rome greeted Dr. Luther. As I have pondered this, I have come up with these varied responses. The list is probably not complete, nor fully thought through, but I post it here as a “think piece”.
Get More Involved Response
Some thought Luther’s harsh critique was the result of just not knowing enough about the situation, so they invited him into the mess. So someone who criticizes the LCMS may be offered to be “enlightened” by those in power. This tactic works in many ways because it takes the vocal opponents and silences them by offering them “influence” and “power” which plays into ego and pride. It brings them into some sort of “brotherhood” (everyone likes to be liked). The reality is that over time these critics become cheerleaders because they are personally invested in the institution.
Rome tried to ignore Dr. Luther’s critiques (he was, after all, just a monk teaching at a relatively new university). The printing press made this response impossible. In the same fashion, people should realize the Synodical backlash against the criticism found on the internet (blogs, podcasts, etc.) looks eerily similar.
This response was the effort through the Augustinian order to silence Luther. Then it grew into the bureaucracy of Rome investigating and trying to silence Luther with court trials and procedure. This also involved official and unofficial efforts to disown Luther at official levels. In the same way, the LCMS would use this response in denying positions to a critic or using the official institutions to overwhelm the critics. This would also be the root of many efforts to encourage critics to use “procedure” in lodging their complaint (insert the institutional use of “Mt 18” and “the 8th Commandment” here).
Princes were pressured to act on Luther. Bishops and other authorities were also called upon. Attempts were made to discredit him and paint him as a deviant. So also the category of “electability” in the LCMS is created and sustained to maintain this political response to critics. This is also where complaints about “tone” would fit into the picture. Obviously, the “tone” complaint is useful in any one of these responses as a shut-down tactic. Also useful in this response are tools that would paint the critic as insane or just too radical, impatient, or overzealous. Character assassination is key here.
Theologians tried to respond to Luther and often mischaracterized his complaints. This included court theologians being used as tools of a Political Response or Institutional Response. Other theologians felt the need to take up the task as well, citing the political and institutional authorities in their refutations. This was the most genuinely godly of the responses to the critic, to engage the substance of the theology of Luther.
Physical Threat Response
Finally, Luther was put under a death sentence. This is a little different today, but it would look a lot like threatening a “Luther” with loss of income, house, home, etc. The LCMS does not have the power of the sword and thus the sword they use will likely only break the fifth commandment by doing harm to the neighbor’s body through the refusal to provide daily bread.